Trashy TV With A Message

Call it Sesame Street for adults, Dominican-style. Soap opera Contracorriente has the shocking plot twists of daytime TV, but with a secret message about savings.

Entertaining as they may be, soap operas are not generally thought of as learning tools–unless you want to learn whose evil twin is having an affair with her brother’s sister. But as parents can attest from hours of sitting through shows like Sesame Street, television is an effective teaching mechanism when used correctly. And where children may be attracted to a learning program by giant yellow birds and monsters living in trash cans, adults can be swayed by dramatic plotlines and engaging characters. That is, at least, what Women’s World Banking, a non-profit microfinance group, and Banco ADOPEM are hoping happens with Contracorriente. The new soap opera is set to launch this month in the Dominican Republic, where women make up 50% of the population but are 70% of the country’s poor.


The 16-episode series, which is being broadcast on Telesistema (a national channel in the DR), explores plotlines that teach residents–and women in particular–to become more financially literate. “We’re getting the product to them rather than [asking women] to go to the bank. The show plays at 11:30 in the morning, maximize an audience of low-income women who do tend to watch these telenovelas,” explains Mary Ellen Iskenderian, CEO of Women’s World Banking.

The show, which is part of Women’s World Banking’s “Safe Places to Save”initiative, is broadcasting at the same time as Banco ADOPEM is running a national campaign to encourage savings. The bank has big goals for the show, as well as a series of DVD packs that take the characters from the telenovela and build out on financial education themes. Over time, Banco ADOPEM hopes that the show will lead to an overall 30% increase in new savings accounts opened that don’t go dormant.

The show isn’t all about finances–no one would watch it if it was. “The financial education plot in the soap opera itself is not too heavy-handed. We’re pleased that we can expand that part of the story out with DVD packs,” says Iskenderian. There are plenty of shocking plot lines to keep viewers interested, including one that involves a daughter being molested by her father.

If the Dominican Republic campaign is successful, Women’s World Banking hopes to expand the finance-themed soap opera idea elsewhere. “We’re keen to try it in other places but want to make sure it’s delivering,” says Iskenderian.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.